- Women are still held responsible for preventing rape. As if women haven’t been told enough by society what to do or not to do to feel safe from sexual assault, here’s one more thing to add to your shopping list—after the pepper spray, brass knuckles, self-defense classes, and other miscellaneous weapons we are told to keep with us at all times. Responsibility is still being placed on women to prevent sexual assault, and the stuff we’re told to do isn’t even necessarily going to stop rape from happening—not even “a clothing line offering wearable protection for when things go wrong.” After all, most assaults aren’t committed by strangers, but by people we know and trust.
- All I can think is: chastity belt. Let’s be real…all one needs to do is change the name of the product to “purity panties” and these things have an entirely different function.
- Feeling safe isn’t necessarily being safe. Don’t get me wrong: I’m all about doing things to feel a sense of security. I do things to feel safe all the time, like not walk alone at night if I don’t have to, keep my phone at the ready if I do, keep my car doors locked, turn on the TV if I hear weird noises in my house. But here’s the thing: I might feel a little safer by doing these things, but am I actually safer? And could one go as far as to suggest that my confidence is increased as a result? Am I more empowered, or am I just under the illusion that I am? I think we all know the answer to that. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of being told what I need to do to feel safe. I don’t want to have to buy special underwear to ward away attackers. I’d like to actually feel safer because people aren’t going around raping each other.
- Sexual assault involves more than penetration. Though fortified underwear may stop or slow down an attacker from committing some types of sexual assault, it doesn’t mean that someone is free from all the other ways they could be violated. Sexual assault is any nonconsensual sexual contact, and unfortunately, over-the-underwear assault can be just as traumatic as the reverse. So in actuality, this “anti-rape” product is actually quite limited. Maybe they could develop some sort of full-body mummy-style anti-rape suit—that would be interesting. Or better yet, build some kind of impenetrable bubble that would make it impossible for any potential perpetrator to even get near me. If we’re going to make women the ones responsible for stopping rape, the bubble approach seems the most practical way to go about it.
- I’m not convinced that pissing off an attacker won’t increase the amount of violence perpetrated against me. The creators of AR Wear argue that they read studies that suggest “resistance increases the chance of avoiding a completed rape without making the victim more likely to be physically injured” which apparently leads them to conclude that “an item of clothing that creates an effective barrier layer can allow women and girls to passively resist an attacker, in addition to any other form of resistance they may be able to carry out at the time of an assault.” The AR Wear folks actually only cite one such study, and the conclusion they make based on it is both oversimplified and seemingly focused on stranger assaults only. This research doesn’t take into account the scores of women who comply to their attackers in hopes that the violence won’t be as severe or that they might simply survive the attack. It also doesn’t take into account what happens if a victim’s “forceful resistance” or other strategies aren’t enough for her to get away from her attacker. Think of it this way: If I try to use my pepper spray to thwart and attack and I miss, what happens next?
- If this is anti-rape wear, is everything else rape wear? If I’m raped and I’m not wearing these special underwear (you know, because I wanted to take a day off from feeling constricted and hypervigilant) will I be blamed for what happens to me? Does not wearing these underwear mean I’m inviting assault, like other women who choose to walk alone at night, have a few drinks at the bar, and attempt to live their lives not paralyzed by the fear of rape? Do my regular old cheap panties shout “easy access” and “I’m asking for it”?
- Women who wear this underwear will think about rape every time they get dressed. As an activist who works at a rape crisis center, sexual assault is something I think about constantly. And though I’m a huge advocate for promoting awareness about rape, I’d rather not think about it every time I get dressed. Rape awareness is about consciousness-raising, not fear mongering. And if the only way we can feel safe is to wear anti-rape underwear, we have a serious problem (duh).
- This product is only marketed to white, stereotypically attractive women. The myth that only young, “attractive” women who engage in “risky” activities are raped is still pervasive, and the AR Wear ad doesn’t help. Are young, slender white women the only demographic we care about protecting? Where are the women of color? Where is the age diversity? Will they even manufacture these things in my size? And where—dare I say it—are the men?
- How affordable are these, anyway? I would be interested to know how much a pair of these power panties is going cost, and whether or not most women would be able to afford them. I can tell you this: it’s not like Rape Crisis Centers across the country could afford to hand these out at Take Back the Night events. And if AR Wear is only affordable for certain folks, then we to rethink how to make everyone more safe.
- It seems like peeing would be difficult. My understanding is that one would have to loosen each thigh strap and unlock the combination at the waist every time she wants to go to the bathroom. Not only would this be annoying, but there we go having to think about rape again the ten times we use the toilet throughout the day. Just thinking about having to think about that makes me feel exhausted.
- Someone profits when women purchase a false sense of safety. AR Wear has already raised more than $52,000 for further development of their underwear, perhaps demonstrating both the product’s mainstream appeal and our widespread fear of being sexually assaulted. At any rate, it bothers me that the commercialization of a product like this means that someone profits from all of that collective fear. Anti-capitalism rants aside, I think we should consider where we’re putting our money—and hence, our focus. Think of all the primary prevention work (focused on prevention rather than risk reduction) that could be done with that amount of money (I work in nonprofit, and money for prevention is quite scarce). If AR Wear was to donate its profits to help fund rape prevention efforts, I might ease up a bit here. Until then, I would suggest donating your money to primary prevention efforts that don’t rely on the worn out idea that women alone should be responsible for stopping their own sexual assaults.
- I refuse to lose hope. Risk reduction efforts like self-defense classes or whistle key-chains or ironclad underwear don’t function to change the culture—in many ways, they play right into it. Primary prevention strategies, in contrast, focus attention on preventing sexual assault by changing attitudes and behaviors that lead to individual violence and collective acceptance of rape. Real prevention takes time, and yes, it’s difficult work. Anti-rape undies are the easy way out because they allow us as a culture to remain passive about doing the hard work to make this place safer for all of us. For me, to buy and wear these undies means giving in to the fear I’m “just supposed to live with” as a woman. I refuse to accept this as a reality, and my hope that we can end sexual assault is stronger than any pair of underwear I could buy.
AR Wear is seeking your financial support to finish the development of a new product designed to deter sexual assault. It’s called “anti-rape-wear,” a product its creators believe “will give women and girls additional power to control what happens to their bodies in case they are assaulted.” These impenetrable boy-short style, cut-proof, combination lock underwear might seem innovative, but the cultural attitudes that brought them into being are nothing new. Here are twelve reasons why AR Wear won’t be getting my dollars:
I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of talking about rape.
And I mean RAPE in all its disgusting heaviness—like bricks weighing down a chest and pressing against a throat, or, the kind of choking fog that pulls you into a deep abyss.
Rape is depressing. I’ve worked in the sexual violence prevention and response field for the past ten years--
I know. I’ve also been sexually assaulted more than once and been lucky enough to have enough support to bust out of the confines of what the word “rape” alone can do to a body, to a soul. Not everyone is so lucky, and this reality makes me ache.
I think this is part of the reason that positivity and hope are central to my approach to ending sexual violence. Not happy-go-lucky ignorant hope, but a kind of hope rooted in creativity, faith in people, and the power of critical dialogue: the stuff activists like Paulo Freire and Augusto Boal were all about. It’s not the “kumbaya” we associate with naïve optimism or hypocrisy; it’s the “kumbaya” of connection and spiritual unity, “Come by here,” a genuine longing for compassion, for change.
Augusto Boal used to invite his workshop participants to “Come closer.” I too, invite audiences to engage in hopeful dialogue with me through the use of humor and music. And though there is pain underlining the very reason why I perform about gender violence issues in the first place, I use optimist humor to attempt to disarm the idea of “rape” as something that swallows everything. Rapists may have taken, but they don’t get it all. They don’t get control over how we name and frame and re-claim our experiences.
Our rhetoric of rape does not need to be hopeless. It does not need to be dark or dank, our language stuck in a cycle of revictimization. Our rhetoric of rape can also move beyond survival into celebration, fierce wit, and self-reflective humor. In other words, if we’re going to try to end rape, why not put some positive force behind it?
I’m tired of talking about rape in ways that make me depressed. We are complicated beings capable of recognizing both the horribleness of rape and the potential of our talk about it to transform the world around us. We need a fierce optimism to inspire us to continue answering hotline calls, to prevent us from burnout, to engage us in radical acts of self-care. We need a kind of profound hope that inspires audience members in our prevention programs into lively, multi-dimensional dialogues about ending sexual violence.
This is not to suggest that “rape” should lose its nastiness. On the contrary, our anger about rape is integral to a desire for the transformation of our rape culture world. Coupled with creative, critically clever activism, our frustration and anger at rape culture can be channeled into self-sustaining movement that helps us to heal, refuel, and remain inspired.
No, rapists. You don’t win.
Jenn Freitag, Ph.D. is an educator, activist, scholar, and performance artist committed to ending gender violence.